Building capacity for sustainable governance in South Asian fisheries: poverty, wellbeing and deliberative policy networks
The current crisis in world fisheries is regarded by many to be the result of the persistent failure of fisheries management and policy to significantly abate the problems of overfishing.
Some have even predicted the collapse of all commercial fish stocks within the next 50 years, and yet millions of people are directly dependent upon fishing for a livelihood and as a source of protein rich food security. This crisis arises from the fact that many policies which promote environmental sustainability often conflict with human development considerations.
In South Asia, which has the world's fastest growing population of coastal poor, this conflict has the potential to be at its most destructive. Existing policy and management regimes in fisheries have, as yet, been unable to resolve such conflicts between the environmental and human development agendas.
The purpose of this project was to advance deliberative policy networks in which key stakeholders in fisheries were able to bring together their distinctive expertise and knowledge to build new approaches to governance that directly addressed this clash. Members of existing networks recognised that competing claims to fisheries existed, and were committed to finding new ways of identifying policy options that accommodated diverse values, needs and goals. The project therefore was about building capacity in an unconventional sense. It involved creating a forum in which natural and social scientists could contribute effectively to the grass-roots, democratic construction of sustainable policy for threatened ecosystems and the wellbeing of local communities dependent thereon in South Asia.
Our approach drew from two newly emerging fields of research: Wellbeing in developing countries and Interactive Governance of fisheries. The network brought together, for the first time, expertise from these two arenas and applied it to the context of South Asian fisheries, building on a history of successful collaboration with partners in India and Sri Lanka. The methodology adopted was informed by a conceptual and empirical research framework which defined wellbeing as: "a state of being with others, where human needs are met, where one can act meaningfully to pursue one's goals, and where one enjoys a satisfactory quality of life".
The wellbeing framework provided a means to identify and analyse the full range of relationships between people and the natural resource: it explored fisheries livelihoods, individual needs and goals, and the wider social, political and cultural organisation of fishing communities. It particularly highlighted the fact that change in fisheries did not affect everyone equally and what resulted in improvements in one person's wellbeing may result in another's ill-being - the heart of the challenge for governance and policy is how to recognise and deal with wellbeing trade-offs, conflicts and hard choices.
Interactive Governance theory offers a process for deliberating hard choices, primarily through reverting to a discussion of basic values and principles on which governance can proceed. It also works with the idea of moving from 'good governance' to 'good enough' governance and the subsequent implications of doing so.
The project held three workshops in India and Sri Lanka, where conflicts between poverty alleviation and conservation of fisheries were evident. The workshops brought together scientists, local community representatives, policy makers and politicians and began instituting an ongoing deliberative democratic process. The third workshop was a regional forum to reflect upon deliberations and formulate a forward strategy of action and research.